Social Networks

TechCrunch Argues Social Media News Feeds 'Need to Die' (techcrunch.com) 154

"Feeds need to die because they distort our views and disconnect us from other human beings around us," argues TechCrunch's Romain Dillet: At first, I thought I was missing out on some Very Important Content. I felt disconnected. I fought against my own FOMO. But now, I don't feel anything. What's going on on Instagram? I don't care. Facebook is now the worst internet forum you can find. Twitter is filled with horrible, abusive people. Instagram has become a tiny Facebook now that it has discouraged all the weird, funny accounts from posting with its broken algorithm. LinkedIn's feed is pure spam.

And here's what I realized after forgetting about all those "social" networks. First, they're tricking you and pushing the right buttons to make you check your feed just one more time. They all use thirsty notifications, promote contrarian posts that get a lot of engagement and play with your emotions. Posting has been gamified and you want to check one more time if you got more likes on your last Instagram photo. Everything is now a story so that you pay more attention to your phone and you get bored less quickly -- moving pictures with sound tend to attract your eyes... [F]inally, I realized that I was missing out by constantly checking all my feeds. By putting my phone on 'Do Not Disturb' for days, I discovered new places, started conversations and noticed tiny little things that made me smile.

He concludes that technology has improved the way we learn, communicate, and share information, "But it has gone too far...

"Forget about your phone for a minute, look around and talk with people next to you."
Encryption

FBI Couldn't Access Nearly 7,000 Devices Because of Encryption (foxbusiness.com) 299

Michael Balsamo, writing for Associated Press: The FBI hasn't been able to retrieve data from more than half of the mobile devices it tried to access in less than a year, FBI Director Christopher Wray said Sunday, turning up the heat on a debate between technology companies and law enforcement officials trying to recover encrypted communications. In the first 11 months of the fiscal year, federal agents were unable to access the content of more than 6,900 mobile devices, Wray said in a speech at the International Association of Chiefs of Police conference in Philadelphia. "To put it mildly, this is a huge, huge problem," Wray said. "It impacts investigations across the board -- narcotics, human trafficking, counterterrorism, counterintelligence, gangs, organized crime, child exploitation." The FBI and other law enforcement officials have long complained about being unable to unlock and recover evidence from cellphones and other devices seized from suspects even if they have a warrant, while technology companies have insisted they must protect customers' digital privacy.
Cellphones

Essential Announces $200 (29%) Discount on Phones -- Price Dropped To $499 (cnet.com) 106

An anonymous reader quote CNET: The heavily hyped, Andy Rubin-backed Essential phone launched late in August. Now, two months later, its price has been cut from $699 to $499. The news was announced in a Sunday blog post by company president Niccolo de Masi. He said the price cut comes in lieu of the company spending money on an expensive marketing campaign. "We could have created a massive TV campaign to capture your attention," Masi wrote, "but we think making it easier for people to get their hands on our first products is a better way to get to know us." A spokesperson added to this, telling CNET, "We've heard from many people that once they got their hands on an Essential Phone they were hooked by the device's unique look and feel... it was a strategic decision to invest in bold pricing to get our products into more hands instead of traditional marketing such as TV to generate awareness and word of mouth."
"There is really no other way to read the move except as a signal that it wasn't selling well at $699," counters the Verge, "especially given that the only U.S. carrier stores it's available in have 'Sprint' above the door. It certainly doesn't help that it now has to face the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL head-to-head."

"To help salve the burn that customers who paid the full price might be feeling, the company is offering a $200 Essential Store 'friends & family code' to be used towards the purchase of another phone or a module."
Security

With Rising Database Breaches, Two-Factor Authentication Also At Risk (hackaday.com) 84

Two-factor authentication "protects from an attacker listening in right now," writes Slashdot reader szczys, "but in many case a database breach will negate the protections of two-factor." Hackaday reports: To fake an app-based 2FA query, someone has to know your TOTP password. That's all, and that's relatively easy. And in the event that the TOTP-key database gets compromised, the bad hackers will know everyone's TOTP keys.

How did this come to pass? In the old days, there was a physical dongle made by RSA that generated pseudorandom numbers in hardware. The secret key was stored in the dongle's flash memory, and the device was shipped with it installed. This was pretty plausibly "something you had" even though it was based on a secret number embedded in silicon. (More like "something you don't know?") The app authenticators are doing something very similar, even though it's all on your computer and the secret is stored somewhere on your hard drive or in your cell phone. The ease of finding this secret pushes it across the plausibility border into "something I know", at least for me.
The original submission calls two-factor authentication "an enhancement to password security, but good password practices are far and away still the most important of security protocols." (Meaning complex and frequently-changed passwords.)
Advertising

For Under $1,000, Mobile Ads Can Track Your Location (mashable.com) 52

"Researchers were able to use GPS data from an ad network to track a user to their actual location, and trace movements through town," writes phantomfive. Mashable reports: The idea is straightforward: Associate a series of ads with a specific individual as well as predetermined GPS coordinates. When those ads are served to a smartphone app, you know where that individual has been... It's a surprisingly simple technique, and the researchers say you can pull it off for "$1,000 or less." The relatively low cost means that digitally tracking a target in this manner isn't just for corporations, governments, or criminal enterprises. Rather, the stalker next door can have a go at it as well... Refusing to click on the popups isn't enough, as the person being surveilled doesn't need to do so for this to work -- simply being served the advertisements is all it takes.
It's "an industry-wide issue," according to the researchers, while Mashable labels it "digital surveillance, made available to any and all with money on hand, brought to the masses by your friendly neighborhood Silicon Valley disrupters."
Science

Astronomers Strike Gravitational Gold In Colliding Neutron Stars (npr.org) 109

For the first time, scientists have caught two neutron stars in the act of colliding, revealing that these strange smash-ups are the source of heavy elements such as gold and platinum. From a report: The discovery, announced today at a news conference and in scientific reports written by some 3,500 researchers, solves a long-standing mystery about the origin of these heavy elements -- which are found in everything from wedding rings to cellphones to nuclear weapons. It's also a dramatic demonstration of how astrophysics is being transformed by humanity's newfound ability to detect gravitational waves, ripples in the fabric of space-time that are created when massive objects spin around each other and finally collide. "It's so beautiful. It's so beautiful it makes me want to cry. It's the fulfillment of dozens, hundreds, thousands of people's efforts, but it's also the fulfillment of an idea suddenly becoming real," says Peter Saulson of Syracuse University, who has spent more than three decades working on the detection of gravitational waves. Albert Einstein predicted the existence of these ripples more than a century ago, but scientists didn't manage to detect them until 2015. Until now, they'd made only four such detections, and each time the distortions in space-time were caused by the collision of two black holes. That bizarre phenomenon, however, can't normally be seen by telescopes that look for light. Neutron stars, by contrast, spew out visible cosmic fireworks when they come together. These incredibly dense stars are as small as cities like New York and yet have more mass than our sun. Further reading: 'A New Rosetta Stone for Astronomy' (The Atlantic), and Gravitational Wave Astronomers Hit Mother Lode (Scientific American).
Crime

Dutch Police Build a Pokemon Go-Style App For Hunting Wanted Criminals (csoonline.com) 62

"How can the police induce citizens to help investigate crime? By trying to make it 'cool' and turning it into a game that awards points for hits," reports CSO. mrwireless writes: Through their 'police of the future' innovation initiative, and inspired by Pokemon Go, the Dutch police are building an app where you can score points by photographing the license plates of stolen cars. When a car is reported stolen the app will notify people in the neighbourhood, and then the game is on! Privacy activists are worried this creates a whole new relationship with the police, as a deputization of citizens blurs boundaries, and institutionalizes 'coveillance' -- citizens spying on citizens. It could be a slippery slope to situations that more resemble the Stasi regime's, which famously used this form of neighborly surveillance as its preferred method of control.
CSO cites Spiegel Online's description of the unofficial 189,000 Stasi informants as "totally normal citizens of East Germany who betrayed others: neighbors reporting on neighbors, schoolchildren informing on classmates, university students passing along information on other students, managers spying on employees and Communist bosses denouncing party members."

The Dutch police are also building another app that allows citizens to search for missing persons.
Microsoft

PSA: Microsoft Is Using Cortana To Read Your Private Skype Conversations (betanews.com) 180

BrianFagioli shares a report from BetaNews: With Cortana's in-context assistance, it's easier to keep your conversations going by having Cortana suggest useful information based on your chat, like restaurant options or movie reviews. And if you're in a time crunch? Cortana also suggests smart replies, allowing you to respond to any message quickly and easily -- without typing a thing," says The Skype Team. The team further says, "Cortana can also help you organize your day -- no need to leave your conversations. Cortana can detect when you're talking about scheduling events or things you have to do and will recommend setting up a reminder, which you will receive on all your devices that have Cortana enabled. So, whether you're talking about weekend plans or an important work appointment, nothing will slip through the cracks."

So, here's the deal, folks. In order for this magical "in-context" technology to work, Cortana is constantly reading your private conversations. If you use Skype on mobile to discuss private matters with your friends or family, Cortana is constantly analyzing what you type. Talking about secret business plans with a colleague? Yup, Microsoft's assistant is reading those too. Don't misunderstand -- I am not saying Microsoft has malicious intent by adding Cortana to Skype; the company could have good intentions. With that said, there is the potential for abuse. Microsoft could use Cortana's analysis to spy on you for things like advertising or worse, and that stinks. Is it really worth the risk to have smart replies and suggested calendar entries? I don't know about you, but I'd rather not have my Skype conversations read by Microsoft.

Cellphones

Alphabet's Balloons Will Bring Cellphone Service To Puerto Rico (wired.com) 65

An anonymous reader writes:Hurricanes Irma and Maria wiped out more than 90 percent of the cellphone coverage on Puerto Rico. Now the FCC has given "Project Loon" permission to fly 30 balloons more than 12 miles above the island for the next six months, Wired reports, to temporarily replace the thousands of cellphone towers knocked down by the two hurricanes.

Each balloon can service an area of 1,930 miles, so the hope is to restore service to the entire island of Puerto Rico and parts of the U.S. Virgin Islands. In May Project Loon, part of Google's parent company Alphabet, deployed its technology in Peru and later provided emergency internet access there during serious flooding. (Those balloons were acually launched from Puerto Rico.) These new Project Loon balloons will be "relaying communications between Alphabet's own ground stations connected to the surviving wireless networks, and users' handsets," according to the article, which reports that eight wireless carriers in Puerto Rico have already consented to the arrangement.

Government

White House Chief of Staff's Phone Was Reportedly Hacked Months Ago (reuters.com) 138

93 Escort Wagon writes: The personal cellphone belonging to Trump's Chief of Staff, John Kelly, may have been compromised, Reuters reports in a story originating from Politico. This may have happened as early as last December. The issue was discovered when Kelly submitted the phone to the White House's tech support crew during the summer, complaining that the phone would not update correctly.
Cellphones

US Prisons Have a Cellphone Smuggling Problem (nbcnews.com) 275

An anonymous reader quotes NBC: Cellphones smuggled into prisons -- enabling inmates to order murders, plan escapes, deal drugs and extort money -- have become a scourge in a bloc of states where corrections officers annually confiscate as many as one for every three inmates... In South Carolina, prison officers have found and taken one phone for every three inmates, the highest rate in the country. In Oklahoma, it's one phone for every six prisoners, the nation's second-highest rate... Cellphones are prized because they allow inmates to avoid privatized jailhouse phone and visitation services that charge up to $15 for a two-minute call home to friends and family. "Inmates call their mothers like most of us do on holidays," said Dr. John Shaffer, former executive deputy secretary for the Pennsylvania Corrections Department.

But for some, the phones serve a darker purpose. "Most of these guys are just chitchatting with their girlfriends, but some of these guys are stone-hardened criminals running criminal enterprises," said Kevin Tamez of the MPM group, a litigation consulting firm that specializes in prison security... Meth rings operated by prisoners with cellphones, some with ties to prison gangs like the Aryan Brotherhood, the Irish Mob Gang and the United Blood Nation, have been discovered in at least five Southern facilities. Phones have also played a role in breakouts, with one South Carolina inmate dialing up drone delivery of wire cutters and cash for his escape in July. Cellphones are so prevalent in the prison system, Tamez said, that "if you don't have them, you would look like a loser."

The article reports convicts have actually uploaded in-prison videos to Facebook Live and to Snapchat. "Georgia inmates used phones to take photos of themselves tying up or beating other prisoners, then texted the horrifying images to the victim's family and demanded cash."
Android

Bill Gates Has An Android Phone. Has Microsoft Changed? (neowin.net) 156

Bill Gates uses an Android phone now. "It may not be the most surprising revelation, given profits are sinking faster than a boat without a hull and big-name partners are jumping ship left and right, but the founder of Microsoft has presumably left Windows Mobile," reports Neonwin. Long-time Slashdot reader Billly Gates (no relation) writes: I would assume this is the final nail in the coffin for Windows Phone and the rumored Surface Phone which may never see the light of day. Over the past few months we have seen a change in Microsoft with them being friendly to Linux with stories of porting .NET core over to Linux, helping write a custom Linux kernel, as well as introducing the not-so-popular-on-slashdot WSL Ubuntu for WIndows 10.
Noting the Android emulators in Visual Studio, he's wondering if the company's ambitions go beyond developers, and if they're planning a Microsoft version of Android, "as the tools are in place with Ubuntu, Node.js, Python, Microsoft Code editor, and the Visual Studio 2017 Community Edition."

His original submission points out that 10 years ago these stories would have been unimaginable, but he also asks a second question: has Microsoft really changed? "Could we be seeing a new Microsoft now that the world is moving to mobile and they have no operating system in it?"
Power

Solar Powered Smartwatch Successfully Crowdfunded on Kickstarter (theverge.com) 69

An anonymous reader quotes the Verge: Battery life on smartwatches is, in a word, bad. And while most of today's watches can more or less make it through a day without dying, they're still a far cry from the months or even years that traditional watches can run for. What if you never had to charge your smartwatch? That's the promise of Lunar, a new Kickstarter project that claims to be the world's first solar-powered smartwatch... The company says that the watch can charge off both indoor and outdoor light, and can run off as little as one hour of exposure a day. (The company also includes a traditional inductive charger as a backup.)

As for the watch itself, it's a pretty standard hybrid smartwatch, solar power aside. It'll be able to do basic activity and sleep tracking, offer some limited notification support through a colored LED, and automatically set time zones through a connected smartphone app. Also, given the need for low power consumption for the solar charging to feasibly work, there's no screen on the Lunar. Instead, there's just a ring of LED lights located where hour markers would be.

The campaign reached its funding goal wIthin two days of launching -- and one week later had double that amount, raising a total of $101,987 from 564 backers.

It's not clear if Slashdot readers love or hate smartwatches. Does it make a difference if the watch is solar powered?
Communications

FCC Chief Tells Apple To Turn on iPhone's FM Radio Chip (cnet.com) 235

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai pushed Apple on Friday to activate the FM radio chips in the iPhone. From a report: In the wake of three major hurricanes that have wiped out communications for millions of people over the past month, Pai issued a statement urging Apple, one of the largest makers of cellphones in the US, to "reconsider its position, given the devastation wrought by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria." FM radios that are already included in every phone could be used to access "life-saving information" during disasters, he said. For years the majority of smartphones sold in the US have included FM radios, but most of them have been turned off so that you couldn't use the function. Why? Mobile customers would be a lot less likely to subscribe to streaming music services if they could just listen to traditional, free broadcast radio. This incentive is especially true for Apple, which has a streaming music service. Apple said in a statement: "iPhone 7 and iPhone 8 models do not have FM radio chips in them nor do they have antennas designed to support FM signals, so it is not possible to enable FM reception in these products."
Cellphones

Can An Individual Still Resist The Spread of Technology? (chicagotribune.com) 383

schwit1 shares a column from the Chicago Tribune: When cellphones first appeared, they gave people one more means of communication, which they could accept or reject. But before long, most of us began to feel naked and panicky anytime we left home without one. To do without a cellphone -- and soon, if not already, a smartphone -- means estranging oneself from normal society. We went from "you can have a portable communication device" to "you must have a portable communication device" practically overnight... Today most people are expected to be instantly reachable at all times. These devices have gone from servants to masters...

Few of us would be willing to give up modern shelter, food, clothing, medicine, entertainment or transportation. Most of us would say the trade-offs are more than worth it. But they happen whether they are worth it or not, and the individual has little power to resist. Technological innovation is a one-way street. Once you enter it, you are obligated to proceed, even if it leads someplace you would not have chosen to go.

The column argues "the iPhone X proves the Unabomber was right," citing this passage from the 1996 manifesto of the anti-technology terrorist. "Once a technical innovation has been introduced, people usually become dependent on it, so that they can never again do without it, unless it is replaced by some still more advanced innovation. Not only do people become dependent as individuals on a new item of technology, but, even more, the system as a whole becomes dependent on it."
Math

Ancient Tablet Reveals Babylonians Discovered Trigonometry (sciencemag.org) 83

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Science Magazine: Trigonometry, the study of the lengths and angles of triangles, sends most modern high schoolers scurrying to their cellphones to look up angles, sines, and cosines. Now, a fresh look at a 3700-year-old clay tablet suggests that Babylonian mathematicians not only developed the first trig table, beating the Greeks to the punch by more than 1000 years, but that they also figured out an entirely new way to look at the subject. However, other experts on the clay tablet, known as Plimpton 322 (P322), say the new work is speculative at best. Consisting of four columns and 15 rows of numbers inscribed in cuneiform, the famous P322 tablet was discovered in the early 1900s in what is now southern Iraq by archaeologist, antiquities dealer, and diplomat Edgar Banks, the inspiration for the fictional character Indiana Jones.

Now stored at Columbia University, the tablet first garnered attention in the 1940s, when historians recognized that its cuneiform inscriptions contain a series of numbers echoing the Pythagorean theorem, which explains the relationship of the lengths of the sides of a right triangle. (The theorem: The square of the hypotenuse equals the sum of the square of the other two sides.) But why ancient scribes generated and sorted these numbers in the first place has been debated for decades. Mathematician Daniel Mansfield of the University of New South Wales (UNSW) realized that the information he needed was in missing pieces of P322 that had been reconstructed by other researchers. He and UNSW mathematician Norman Wildberger concluded that the Babylonians expressed trigonometry in terms of exact ratios of the lengths of the sides of right triangles, rather than by angles, using their base 60 form of mathematics, they report today in Historia Mathematica.

Science

Device That Revolutionized Timekeeping Receives an IEEE Milestone (ieee.org) 46

An anonymous reader writes: The invention of the atomic clock fundamentally altered the way that time is measured and kept. The clock helped redefine the duration of a single second, and its groundbreaking accuracy contributed to technologies we rely on today, including cellphones and GPS receivers. Building on the accomplishments of previous researchers, Harold Lyons and his colleagues at the U.S. National Bureau of Standards (now the National Institute of Standards and Technology), in Washington, D.C., began working in 1947 on developing an atomic clock and demonstrated it to the public two years later. Its design was based on atomic physics. The clock kept time by tracking the microwave signals that electrons in atoms emit when they change energy levels. This month the atomic clock received an IEEE Milestone. Administered by the IEEE History Center and supported by donors, the milestone program recognizes outstanding technical developments around the world.
Iphone

Apple Refuses To Enable iPhone Emergency Settings that Could Save Countless Lives (thenextweb.com) 279

An anonymous reader shares a report: Despite being relatively easy, Apple keeps ignoring requests to enable a feature called Advanced Mobile Location (AML) in iOS. Enabling AML would give emergency services extremely accurate locations of emergency calls made from iPhones, dramatically decreasing response time. As we have covered before, Google's successful implementation of AML for Android is already saving lives. But where Android users have become safer, iPhone owners have been left behind. The European Emergency Number Association (EENA), the organization behind implementing AML for emergency services, released a statement today that pleads Apple to consider the safety of its customers and participate in the program: "As AML is being deployed in more and more countries, iPhone users are put at a disadvantage compared to Android users in the scenario that matters most: An emergency. EENA calls on Apple to integrate Advanced Mobile Location in their smartphones for the safety of their customers." Why is AML so important? Majority of emergency calls today are made from cellphones, which has made location pinging increasingly more important for emergency services. There are many emergency apps and features in development, but AML's strength is that it doesn't require anything from the user -- no downloads and no forethought: The process is completely automated. With AML, smartphones running supporting operating systems will recognize when emergency calls are being made and turn on GNSS (global navigation satellite system) and Wi-Fi. The phone then automatically sends an SMS to emergency services, detailing the location of the caller. AML is up to 4,000 times more accurate than the current systems -- pinpointing phones down from an entire city to a room in an apartment. "In the past months, EENA has been travelling around Europe to raise awareness of AML in as many countries as possible. All these meetings brought up a recurring question that EENA had to reply to: 'So, what about Apple?'" reads EENA's statement.
Android

Motorola Unveils the Moto Z2 Force, a Smartphone With Double the Cameras and a Shatterproof Screen (theverge.com) 47

Motorola has announced a new flagship smartphone that will be available on every major U.S. carrier. Some of the noteworthy specifications include a nearly indestructible screen and dual rear-facing camera sensors. The Verge reports: The Moto Z2 Force is the closest thing to a flagship phone that Motorola has released this year, and it's got all the hardware specs to show for it: inside is Qualcomm's Snapdragon 835 processor, 4GB of RAM, and 64GB of storage. It runs Android 7.1 with a promised upgrade to Android O to come. That's all standard fare for an expensive 2017 smartphone, and the Z2 Force is certainly expensive at around $720. It's priced even higher on some carriers like AT&T ($810). This version is much thinner than last year's phone, but that sleek design comes with a significant sacrifice in battery capacity; the Z2 Force has a 2,730mAh battery compared to the 3,500mAh battery in the old Moto Z Force. Between this and the Moto Z2 Play, Motorola sure does seem obsessed with slimming things down lately, and what are we gaining? Oh, there's no headphone jack on this thing either. Be prepared to go wireless or live the dongle life.
Businesses

Disastrous 'Pokemon Go' Event Leads To Mass Refunds (techcrunch.com) 196

thegarbz writes: A Pokemon Go Fest hosted in Chicago and attended by between 15-20,000 people has ended in disaster. The event was plagued by logistical issues resulting in 3+ hour long delays getting into Chicago's Grant Park... Those people who were lucky enough to get into the paid event were greeted with a completely overloaded cell network unable to cope with the number of people trying to get online at the same time. The occasional person who was able to connect experienced a never ending string of game-breaking bugs when attempting to catch the rare Pokemon created specifically for this event.
Gaming company Niantic finally just gave a rare Pokemon Go character to everyone who attended -- though one attendee still called it a "horrible, terrible day." The Kansas City Star reported some people had paid as much as $400 for their tickets -- which had sold out within minutes -- and that some attendees had even started lining up for the event at 6 a.m.

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